In 1960 Roger Maris came to the Yankees from Kansas City. I had been burned in a fire that August, so I was laid up for a while. I followed baseball even more closely because of that. I remember a headline in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that said that Roger Maris "rejuvenates" the Yankees. I had never heard the word "rejuvenate" before, but it made me think that this Roger Maris was someone special. That's just like yesterday to me. That was the year, you may recall, that he won the Most Valuable Player award.
For me, there was just something about the way he swung the bat, the way he played rightfield, the way he looked. I had an idol. In 1961 the entire country was wrapped up in the home run race between Maris and Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth's ghost. I cut out every single article on Roger and told myself that when I got older and could afford it, I would have my scrapbooks professionally bound. About eight years ago I had all of it bound into 11 volumes.
I always sat in section 31, row 162-A, seat 1 in Yankee Stadium. Rightfield. I would buy a general admission ticket, but I knew the policeman, so I would always sit in that reserved seat. I'd get to the ballpark about two hours before they'd open up and I'd remain two hours after. I would see Roger park his car and I would say hello and tell him what a big fan I was. After a while, he started to notice me. He threw me a baseball in batting practice, and I am embarrassed to say that I was so stunned, I couldn't lift my arms. The ball fell and somebody else got it. I yelled to Roger that I didn't get the ball, so he stopped on the way in and spoke to Phil Linz, a utility infielder, and Linz comes over, takes a ball out of his back pocket and says, "Put out your hand." I put out my hand and he said, "This is from Roger Maris."
He put the ball in my hand. But you know how cruel kids can be. My friends said, "That ball's from Phil Linz, not Roger Maris." So later on I asked Roger for a ball and he gave me one.
After that, my friends kept pushing me, challenging me. "Why don't you ask him for one of his home run bats?" Well, one day Roger was standing by the fence during batting practice. I made the request for a bat, and he said, "Sure, next time I break the bat."
This was in 1965. The Yankees had a West Coast trip, and I was listening to their game against the Angels on the radio late one night, in bed, with the lights out. And Roger cracked a bat. He had to go back to the bat rack. The next morning my old friend from high school calls me: "Did you hear Roger cracked his bat? That's your bat."
I said, "We'll see."
When the club came back to town my friend and I went to the stadium, and during batting practice Rog walked straight over to me and before I even opened up my mouth he said, "I've got that bat for you."
I said, "Oh, my God, I can't thank you enough."
He knew who I was. Before the game started I went to the dugout. I went up to the great big policeman stationed there and just poured my heart out as quickly as I could—"You have to understand, please understand, Roger Maris told me to come here, I was supposed to pick up a bat, it's the most important thing, I wouldn't fool you, I'm not trying to pull the wool over your eyes, you gotta let me...."